New York Jets Early Staff Evaluations – Head Coach Edition

Daniel Essien with an evaluation of Todd Bowles’ job as Head Coach for the New York Jets…

As the Jets rebuild continues, it’s important that they take a detailed look at their front office and coaching staff to determine where there’s progress and where changes need to be made. Last week, we looked at Mike Maccagnan’s performance so far as GM of the New York Jets. Let’s continue early staff evaluations with head coach Todd Bowles. 

Todd Bowles is in his third season as the head coach of the New York Jets. Evaluating Bowles tenure is all about expectations. The Bowles hire was meant to bring stability, and install a culture of accountability with the Jets  while establishing a solid defensive unit. He was also expected to grow into his responsibilities as a first time head coach. When the Jets decided to “go for it” in 2015 and fill their roster with expensive veterans (making it difficult to try to establish any kind of new culture or stability), the timing of some those objectives were slightly altered. After the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Jets gutted the roster and hit reset but that’s doesn’t clear the slate. Let’s consider the totality of Todd Bowles’ tenure and the decision the Jets face going forward.

New mood, familiar flaws

Following Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles is a very different coach from a temperament standpoint. Bowles is stoic. There’s no bluster when he speaks. And he generally gives a different persona to the public than he does to his team. Much of that has been somewhat positive. However, his demeanor was a minor positive. Bowles is yet to root out more major concerns.

Culture wars

As was stated, changing the culture of the team was one of Todd Bowles’ objectives. Bowles has been more private with his discipline when dealing with the singular player issues. While his calculated strategy yielded positive results in a few situations early on (i.e – Richardson off the field issues 2015/16,  IK Enemkpali incident), lines have been a bit more blurred when it comes to his handling of veteran players. The most notable of which has been with Mo Wilkerson. They failed to properly handle his injury in 2016, when they seemed to allow him to not just play hurt but play unmotivated. Also, the reports of constant lateness from Wilkerson going relatively unpunished until recently when he was suspended for week 15. Playing Wilkerson this week presents a variety of different issues regarding his contract and a potential cap disaster but that’s a problem that lies equally on GM Mike Maccagnan and, interim owner, Chris Johnson’s plate.

In terms of the culture of this team, though, the good news is that the majority of the core players all seem to have bought in to Bowles’ messsage of accountability and possess the mentality and skill to lead by example. But if that foundation is strong enough, do they need to Bowles in place to continue that tradition?

Learning on the job

The other variable has been the expectation that Bowles would grow into his responsibilities as a first-time head coach. The reality is that he’s still yet to fully do so. His preparation has improved since his first year. For example, week 3 against the Dolphins, week 4 against the Jaguars, and week 9 against the Bills, were games where Bowles showed improvement from a strategic standpoint. But his in-game decision making and game/clock management is still a major concern. One example of that is from the week 13 matchup against Chiefs, when the Jets left their corners one on one against Tyreek Hill with no help over the top and Alex Smith took advantage repeatedly with two long TD passes. There was also the much discussed clock management issue in week 14 at the end of the half in Denver. It’s reasonable to worry about Bowles’ potential as a head coach when you see mistakes from his first year arise again in year three.

Not so easy

Deciding Bowles future is not a simple task. There has to be a solid contingency plan in place that is better than what they thought they had with Todd Bowles in 2015. If you remember, Dan Quinn and Todd Bowles were both considered top head coaching candidates. One of our writers, Ed Gorelik, compiled a list of potential candidates for head coach for the Jets. What you’d hope is that if it’s even a possibility that they fire Bowles, the Jets are interviewing candidates right now. Lack of direction and preparedness is what keeps you in an endless hiring loop. But first they have to be sure it’s time to move on.

Be a bridge

The concept of keeping Todd Bowles may be maddening for many fans. But, it matters more what that does for the Jets’ young core players. Bowles isn’t really a destructive presence. However, what’s worrisome is his tendency to be slow to change. It’s problematic to have a coach stuck in their way. We’ve seen so from coaches like Jeff Fisher, Chuck Pagano, Rex Ryan, and Marvin Lewis. They all had or currently are having a negative impact on their team’s future. However, even if the Jets know right now that Todd Bowles isn’t their head coach in the long term, they still can’t be reactionary.

The urgency of the Bowles decision should be directly dependent on whether or not he is a net positive or negative in terms of player development. So far, there have been players that have developed well under his watch. For example, Robby Anderson, Brandon Shell, Austin Seferian-Jenkins have been the success stories for 2017. In addition, there are big expectations for rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who were both trusted with major roles from the start. The only true cautionary tales during Todd Bowles’ tenure have been those of Lorenzo Mauldin and Wesley Johnson. Mauldin failed to show any significant signs of improvement since his 2015 season (in between injuries) and Johnson has struggled mightily since being promoted to the starting job this season. So, let’s assume a sound coaching search (a pipe dream) takes place and the Jets aren’t blown away by any coaching candidates. Wouldn’t retaining Bowles for another year (with contract extension) and tracking player development through 2018 make sense?

Jim Schwartz

I think the perfect comparison in this scenario is Jim Schwartz in his tenure as head coach of the Detroit Lions (2009-2013). The Lions hired Schwartz as a first time head coach to replace Rod Marinelli after going 0-16 in 2008. Like Bowles, Schwartz’s background was as a long time defensive coordinator. Unlike Bowles, however, expectations were really low. Schwartz had the benefit of the history of failure in that market. Also, there was an immediate understanding about the poor state of the roster. The plan was that he’d grow into the role while the roster was built. Want an even bigger added benefit Schwartz had? The Lions drafted Matthew Stafford in 2009 when he arrived.

Need more than a game manager

His first two season Schwartz went 8-24 before finally getting a playoff appearance in 2011. The next two years the Lions underperformed going 11-21 with collapses in their final 8 games both seasons. Like Bowles, he struggled with the new in-game responsibilities of a head coach for a while. However, what ultimately did him were the following two things: Matthew Stafford’s potential wasn’t being maximized during his tenure and the team regressed after their playoff run in 2011.  The Lions fired Schwartz and he went back to being a really good defensive coordinator (Bills in 2014 and then Eagles up until now). Of course, since the NFL is cyclical, he’s now a head coaching candidate again.

The Jets need to consider all options when it comes to making their decision on Todd Bowles job for 2018. Finding a long term head coach is not like finding franchise QB. You can’t just “draft one till you find one.” It’s dangerous for the Jets to potentially unsettle the team so early in the rebuild process just to hire a coach who might just be a different flavor of average. Is there a coach you think it’s worth the risk? Would you rather give Bowles another season and wait for a better coaching candidate to shake loose?